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These stories were published Thursday, Sept. 9, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 179
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Campaign kicks off to outlaw corporal punishment of kids
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Defensor de los Habitantes and a group of child advocate agencies are kicking off a campaign today — el Día de los Niños — against corporal punishment.

Among other measures, the group has created a Web site where a person may compose a letter to be sent to national legislators urging the approval of a law now in committee that would abolish such punishment.

The intention of the campaign is to sensitize the population that mistreating or physical abuse of a child is not the way to discipline or correct a child. The Defensor in a release defined corporal punishment as any use of force that leaves injuries or inflicts pain on a child with the object of correcting or 

controlling conduct. Corporal punishment violates the basic human rights of children, the Defensor said. 

Comments on the Web site will be sent periodically to the legislators, said the Defensor. However, that part of the agency’s Web site was not operational Wednesday night.

The Defensor is José Manuel Echandi Meza. The other agencies involved in the campaign include Fundación Procal, Fundación Panimor, Save the Children, the Ministerio de Trabajo y Seguridad Social and the Colegio de Licenciados y Profesores en Letras, Filosofía, Ciencias y Artes.

In addition to being Children’s Day here, today is the World Children’s Day.


 
Two ministers and trade team throw in towel
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A series of rapid-fire resignations Wednesday left the Pacheco government short two more ministers and its free trade negotiating team.

Meanwhile, the Movimiento Civico Nacional more or less ordered President Abel Pacheco to attend a negotiation session at Casa Presidencial today at 4 p.m. The movement, which caused massive road blockages two weeks ago also said the country was facing a severe political crises not only because of the strikes it generated but because of the "tremendous revelations of corruption in the highest levels of the governing political class."


Sala IV raps Pacheco 
for joining Iraq coalition
BELOW!


The minister of Obras Públicas y Transportes, Javier Chaves, made his announcement at 5 p.m. An hour later, Alberto Trejos, the minister of Comercio Exteriores, said he was leaving. Trejos and his ministry negotiated the free trade treaty with the United States.

Trejos also said that Anabelle González, the chief free trade negotiator, and Gabriela Llobe, a vice minister, also were leaving.

The ministry run by Chaves oversees Riteve S y C, the firm that has a monopoly concession on inspecting vehicles for safety and exhaust. That was one of the major targets of truckers who blocked the nations roads for days until an agreement was reached early Aug. 31.

The free trade treaty also was a target of strikers.

Alberto Dent, minister of Hacienda, quit Sept. 1, because he did not agree with the salary accord reached with strikers. Ricardo Toledo, the minister of the Presidencia got the truckers off the blockades by promising changes at Riteve and placated striking public employees by giving them a half a percent raise.

Toledo resigned this week.

Trejos said that he wanted to give Pacheco a 

chance to reorganize his government. But his resignation seems to put the treaty in jeopardy at the Asemblea Nacional where it must be approved to take effect.

Wednesday afternoon also was the time that Pacheco got his knuckles rapped by the Sala IV constitutional court for signing on as part of the allied coalition against Iraq. See story BELOW!

The real reasons for the resignations were not obvious. And it was unclear if Pacheco called for them. Trejos is the sixth minister to resign in the last two weeks. Toledo’s resignation was believed to be forced.

The Movimiento Civico said it was planning a demonstration Tuesday outside the Teatro Nacional in downtown San José to continue the criticism of Riteve and also to repudiate the profound corruption of the country.

The most recent allegations of corruption come from the growing scandal involving the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, which accepted a $39 million loan from Finland to buy medical equipment from that country. The head of the Corporación Fischel here got an $8 million commission on the deal, and one allegation is that some $440,500 of the money was shifted into an account owned by Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier, the former president who served from 1990 to 1994.

The implications are that Calderón used his influence to get the loan approved by the legislators. One of the legislators who voted for the deal was Pacheco who was then a deputy. Only one legislator voted against the deal. A judge has ordered him not to leave the country.

In a press release, the movement said it demanded to be received with urgency at Casa Presidencial today at 4 p.m. It said it wanted to meet with Linnette Saborío, first vice president who is serving as the minister of the Presidencia, and said it wanted Pacheco to be there.

The movement is trying to speed up the deal it made with Toledo Aug. 31.

Pacheco was said to be meeting with his remaining ministers late Wednesday night.

Two pedestrians gunned down in wave of killings: BELOW!
 
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Embassy outlines rules
for voting absentee

The U.S. Embassy in San Jose, Costa Rica is sending a message to U.S. citizens reminding them that deadlines are approaching for registering to vote absentee in the 2004 general elections: 

Voting from overseas involves a two-step process, said the embassy: 

Registering to vote:  Persons who wish to vote absentee in the U.S. general elections should register to vote in their county of last residence.  This is done on a form known as the Federal Post Card Application.  The form can be downloaded from the Web site www.fvap.gov, but the Consular Section at the U.S. Embassy also has a supply. 

Persons wishing to register should follow their state's absentee registration and voting procedures.  Prospective voters who have questions may contact the Consular Section at consularsanjose@state.gov, or come to the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy, Monday to Friday between 8 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., and, just on Mondays, between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Mondays and Fridays are the busiest days.

Prospective voters should:

• Pay close attention to deadlines and all other requirements.  Some states require that the post card be notarized, and this can be done in the Consular Section at no charge. 

• Complete the information on the post card clearly and provide an e-mail address so local election officials can contact you easily if necessary. 

If your state permits faxing of ballots, be sure to ask them to fax your ballot to you.  Provide your complete fax number as dialed from the United States.

Many county clerks close their registrations 30 days before the election, so the embassy urges all prospective voters to complete and send in their federal post card registration at once. 

Voting in a timely fashion:  States normally send out absentee ballots 30 to 60 days before the election.  Hopefully, persons who have registered to vote will receive a ballot from their county clerk in time to vote and mail it to assure its arrival by the state's ballot receipt deadline.  If a state requires a notary to sign the ballot, the Consular Section at the Embassy will provide this service free of charge. 

For persons who do not receive the ballot in time, there is an alternative: the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot.

This form is available at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy, but it is not available on line.  To be eligible to use this emergency ballot, the voter must have sent in the post card early enough so that it reaches local election officials at least 30 days before the election. 

The embassy encourages everybody to cast their ballots no later than Oct. 15 if the ballot will be mailed directly to a county clerk from Costa Rica.  Ballots may also be brought to the Consular Section, and workers there will mail them at no cost.  In that case, the ballot should be brought to the embassy no later than Oct. 20. 

Voters who send in ballots after these cut-off dates should plan to use a courier service to send ballots directly to election officials.  Some courier companies may offer special rates or services to U.S. voters. 

Courier companies cannot deliver to post office box addresses.  Before going to a courier company office, voters should contact their local election official to learn what street address to list on the courier company's mailing label. 

More information can be found at http://www.fvap.gov and at http://www.Dnet.org.  Specific questions may be addressed to the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy by sending an e-mail to consularsanjose@state.gov, or by coming to the Consular Section during normal work hours, Monday to Friday between 8 a.m and 11:30 a.m. (and, just on Mondays, between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.). 
 

Construction congress begins

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Congreso Interamericano de la Industria de la Construcción is meeting through Friday at the Hotel Real Intercontinental where those in the construction field from 18 Latin American and Caribbean countries will attend.

The event is under the auspices of the Cámara Costarricense de la Construcción. Jaime Molina Ulloa, president of the Costa Rican chamber, said that havng the congreso here was a great honor.

Culture minister on visit to Japan

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Guido Sáenz, the minister of Cultura, Juventud y Deportes is on an official visit to Japan to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Japanese-Costa Rican relations.

Part of the reason for the trip is to firm up agreements for the visit to Japan of the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional in 2005. While there, Sáenz will celebrate the Costa Rican Día de Independencia, said the ministry.

Ivan will produce
rain in Costa Rica

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Hurricane Ivan will be a strong influence on the nation’s weather as the weekend approaches.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that the hurricane, which was some 1,100 kms. (680 miles)  east-southeast of Kingston, Jamaica, in the Central Caribbean at mid-afternoon Wednesday, was headed west-northwest at about 28 kms. or 17 miles per hour.

The hurricane contains winds of up to 220 kms per hour, some 136 mph.

Although the hurricane will not strike Costa Rica, the effects will include an increase in rain over the weekend.

Meanwhile a low pressure system over the Pacific is continuing to bring rain to many parts of Costa Rica.

The weather bureau said that there were many places with heavy rain Wednesday afternoon. This saturates the land making the possiblity of slides and heavy runoff likely with the arrival of Ivan’s effects Friday.
 
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Sala IV raps Pacheco for joining Iraq War coalition
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court ruled Wednesday that President Abel Pacheco and the executive branch acted unconstitutionally when the administration gave support to the United States and the coalition of allies against Iraq.

A foreign ministry statement a few hours later said the country would send a diplomatic letter early today asking the United States to remove the name of Costa Rica from the list of coalition members.

The high court’s decision was unanimous. All seven magistrates agreed that a March 19, 2003, agreement by Pacheco and the foreign minister was an act contrary to the Costa Rican Constitution, the country’s declaration of perpetual neutrality, the United Nations and international law. The date is the day war started in Iraq.

The court ordered the executive branch to do what is necessary to delete the name of Costa Rica from the list of coalition allies on the Web pages of the White House.

The Defensor de los Habitantes, José Manuel Echandi Meza, brought an action in the Sala IV, as did the Colegio de Abogados, the Costa Rican bar association, and a citizen.

A statement from the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto said Wednesday that the court 

action will not jeopardize diplomatic relations between Costa Rica and the United States. In a democracy, resolutions of the executive branch are not above the law and Costa Rica will always 
maintain its solidarity with victims of terrorism in any part of the world, said the statement.

The statement noted that the court did not say the government did not declare war on Iraq or aid the war, because it did not.

The White House Web site does list Costa Rica as one of the 49 members of the coalition and said the contribution of such countries will range from direct military participation, logistical and intelligence support, specialized chemical/biological response teams, over-flight rights, humanitarian and reconstruction aid, to political support.

The Web site also quotes Pacheco and Roberto Tovar Faja, minister of Relaciones Exteriores, as saying:

"Our vocation for peace must not be interpreted as indifference or tolerance in the face of terrorism. In addition, in the conflict between peace and terrorism, we are not neutral. Costa Rica is and will be a loyal, firm, and resolute ally in favor of those who look for peace, freedom, democracy, and respect for international law." 

Pacheco has been consistent in saying Costa Rica is against terrorism and not necessarily for the war.


 
Monument to Sept. 11 to be inaugurated Saturday
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Saturday is the third anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States. Here in Costa Rica the formal inauguration of a monument in memory of the victims will be held at 10 a.m.

The public is invited. The location is in the former Parque General Cañas in Sabana Norte adjacent to the Centro Cultural Costarricense-Norteamericano. The place now is Parque 11 de Setiembre de 2001.

Ground was broken for the memorial Sept. 11, 2002, and an artist’s sketch was unveiled at the same time. The cultural center, the Costa Rican-American chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Embassy, the Municipality of San José and the American Colony Committee were responsible for constructing the monument.

The monument was designed and constructed by Roland Hockett, a Panama City, Fla., artist who donated his services, according to a release from the American Colony Committee.

The purpose of the monument also is to honor the ties of friendship and fraternity that join the citizens of Costa Rica with those affected by the Sept. 11 tragedies, said the committee.

For those who wish to attend the ceremony, the park is north of the Bulevar las Americas that runs along the north side of Parque la Sabana, in western San José. A right turn from the westbound lane just past Burger King will bring motorists to the site. So will a right turn at the next corner just before the towering headquarters of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.

The park also is a few meters north of the chamber of commerce building.

A.M. Costa Rica file photo
Floral tributes piled up at the U.S. Embassy in the week following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, as well as the hijacker-caused crash of a passenger plane in rural Pennsylvania. 

 
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Two pedestrians gunned down in wave of killings
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Gunmen killed two Costa Rican pedestrians Tuesday night in separate incidents, although the killers might be the same people.

The murders followed by less than a day the killing of a Cuban businessman at a traffic light in north San José.

The first killing Tuesday took place near a Catholic church in Lourdes de Montes de Oca about 8 p.m. The victim, José Manuel Ugalde Quirós, 40, left his home carrying what looked like a briefcase.

Ugalde was a musician with the Orquestra Sinfónica Nacional and the case contained a clarinet. Investigators speculate the killers, who came to him in a car, thought the briefcase contained money.

He died with multiple bullet wounds.

Just 40 minutes later, an off-duty guard also was carrying a briefcase in Gravilias de Desamparados. A red car approached and the occupants fired at the man. The attack took place near the Cruz Roja building.

The second victim was Asar Cedeño Centeno, 39. He was returning home from work at a bank in San Antonio de Desamparados, and the briefcase contained food, agents said.

A spokesman for the Judicial Investgiating Organization said that agents were working on the 

assumption that the killings are related.

The car that contained the individuals who killled the Cuban man Monday was a white one,  although criminals typically steal a car when they are contemplating a violent crime.

The Monday victim, José Francisco Pérez Quintero, 59, was in his car and not on foot. The killers cut  off his car at a traffic light just 100 meters from the Museo de Niños and shot him in the head. Some $3,500 in cash was not taken, possibily because the vehicle lurched forward into a ditch and struck a wall.

Pérez, who had lived in Costa Rica seven years previously lived in Florida. He was killed on Avenida 9 about 9:30 p.m. while he headed home to Santo Domingo de Heredia.

Robberies of pedestrians are not unusual in San José, even in the more upscale residential areas. However, bandits usually do not harm their victims. Three murders in less than 24 hours is unusual.

In what might be yet another related incident, gunmen showed up at the AM PM supermarket in Pavas at midnight, stole the gun of a guard and the valuables of others there and then fled with 60,000 colons, some $135.

Hours later police found the car with the owner, a woman, bound hands and feet and stuffed in the trunk. She was a victim of vehicle theft and a prisoner in the car during the robbery.


 
Twin reports cite weaknesses in Hatian government
By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services 
and special reports 

The Organization of American States says some basic rights of Haitians remain "weak and imperiled," seven months after former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled the country amid an uprising. 

In a statement Tuesday, an OAS human rights panel also said it is concerned about the security situation in areas of Haiti where armed groups appear to be in control. 

The panel, known as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, urged Haiti's interim government to work with the international community to take urgent steps to disarm the gangs and militias. 

Panel members visited Haiti from Sept. 1 to Sept. 3. 

Meanwhile, the United Nations says that Secretary-General Kofi Annan's latest report, on the progress of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti, warns that the rule of law there remains weak. 

The report also says armed groups continue to undermine the country's institutions.

In his report Tuesday on Haiti, Annan said the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti  has made a promising start in 2004 by progressively restoring security to

areas of the country as the mission deploys more and more troops.

But Annan warned that in the absence of national police in the country, "illegitimate" armed groups claim to be exercising official security and administrative responsibilities, especially in Haiti's north and east regions along the border with the Dominican Republic.

Annan said there have been reports of "isolated instances of violence and gunfire," with killings, home invasions, kidnappings and gang activity. The armed groups include former soldiers and police, street gangs, organized criminals, and supporters of Aristide, who resigned Feb. 29.

Meanwhile, the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said  another major concern is weakness in the administration of justice in Haiti, as well as the "ongoing problem of impunity." Deficiencies in the Haitian judicial system continue to include a severe shortage of resources for judges, magistrates, courts, and the police, as well as due-process violations, such as individuals being detained for long periods without being brought before a judge, the OAS report said.

On the positive side, the OAS said it was told that members of the Haitian judiciary have received increases in their salaries, and that although the increases may still be insufficient, these measures constituted a first step.


 
Colombian government troops claim big victory over Marxist rebels
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia's military says it has killed or captured nearly 300 Marxist rebels in an offensive in the south of the country. 

The military says 167 rebels have been killed and another 123 captured in the offensive. It said 49 soldiers have also been killed. 

The offensive, dubbed Plan Patriot, involves troops going into vast areas of southern Colombia with the intent of destroying jungle strongholds of the FARC - the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.  The government hopes to force peace talks.

The FARC, along with a smaller leftist rebel group and rightist paramilitaries, have been waging a long-running civil war.


 
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